From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 1 to 14                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2018

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

 

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 1:  Chapters 1 to 14)

 

 

by

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2018 by author

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction to the

“Busy Person’s Guide” Series

 

            When the great scholar Jerome was producing what came to be known as the “Vulgate”--the authoritative Latin text for the Roman Catholic Church--the equally renowned Augustine was upset and annoyed:  Why do we need another Bible translation? he insisted to his fellow scholar.  Quietly Jerome hit at Augustine’s own weak point:  Why do we need another commentary?  (The production of which was a hallmark of Augustine’s labor.)  Augustine reconsidered and backed off from the criticism as being, perhaps, a bit hasty.

            Augustine’s question remains relevant to our age, however.  You could invest all of your surplus income--assuming you are part of the prosperous but overworked middle class--and still not afford to buy all those that are available.  Much less find the time to read them.  So why another commentary and why this one in particular?

            Historically commentaries have been written more often than not for either the well educated or the self-designated religious “elite” who are so absorbed in the text that they want to learn as much as they can about it and prefer exhaustive analysis.  There is a definite place for such commentaries and I am not above writing such myself.

            Yet in the past and even more so today, there is also the need for a very different type of exposition:  concise and to the point.  Even the most devout has only 24 hours a day.  The hasty pace of keeping one’s family’s financial head above water takes up an inordinate amount of that time.  Family obligations and one’s religious interests eat yet further into what is available.  In this pressure cooker environment, the time to merely set down and think has become extraordinarily precious.

            Hence these Quickly Understanding commentaries have been produced to allow the Biblically interested but time limited reader to get the most out of their restricted study time.  First, read a section of the text itself.  For your convenience we divide the commentary into such sections; the headings are not intended to be merely descriptive of what is in that section, but, often, interpretive as well—to make plain one or more points that are underlying the discussion.

            These are presented in the able New English Translation.  They officially permit—rather than unofficially permit or “overlook” the usage--so long as it is done absolutely without any financial charge.  (Or read it in your own preferred translation:  the commentary will work with just about any except the most paraphrasistic ones.)  All individual verse translations we provide, however, are from the New King James Version--an able update of the KJV and utilizing the same underlying Greek text.

            Individual verses then follows.  In a limited number of cases multiple verses are studied together.  A typical cause of this happening is the way certain verses end at awkward places and in the middle of a thought.

            Instead of having to wade through highly technical long paragraphs and even multi-pages you find simple and direct language.  A matter of a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.  Not everything you could find of value of course but, hopefully, a “nugget” or two of something useful in every verse analyzed.

            Sometimes it will be the core thought or message of the verse.  Sometimes it will be a key moral principle the text intends to convey.  In all cases it will be summed up in significantly different words than the text or with supplemental interpretive phrases to “flesh out” the meaning or intention. 

            Every verse is unique.  Some make us wonder why people acted the way they did and we briefly probe the possibilities.   In other cases we wonder why they so misunderstood what was going on and we suggest reasons that could have motivated them.  Other passages present an implicit challenge to the then listener and here we make it explicit so we can face the same challenge as the original audience.  To understand yet other readings, a piece of historical background is needed and we have tried to provide that as well.

            We have avoided fanciful and far-fetched interpretation.  We have assumed that Jesus intended to give guidelines for life in the here and now.  Realistic.  Reachable.  Reasonable.  And we have interpreted the text with those assumptions as our foundation.  I have no problem introducing inferences but we have tried to limit this to the more probable ones unless we include cautionary language as well.  After all, inferences can range from necessary to probable to possible to conjectural to fanciful to outright delusional.  It is a tool to be used with caution, common sense, and prudence.

            For those who wish to grasp the essence of the still living message, this book should prove invaluable assistance.

            We have avoided those areas that require elaborate and sustained discussion.  Issues of authorship, date, and canonicity are all useful and of value.  But here we are interested in the contents of the book.  We begin with the assumption that virtually every one shares:  this purports to be a first century book by someone claiming to know a great deal about the life of Jesus.  Based upon what he has preserved for us, what can we learn about Jesus’ life?  What can we learn about His teaching?  Most importantly, what can we learn that will help us better understand the text or morally improve our own lives?  Hence the sometimes obscure scholarly arguments relating to the book’s background are best left for a different context.   

 

The original version of Matthew, Luke, and John  appear to have been done in 2006 and was revised in 2017-2018, during which the translations were added as well as extra commentary added to enhance what was already present.  In this time frame Mark was added to complete the four gospels.

            Frankly, I had forgotten that these volumes were anywhere near completed in first draft form.  They were among a number of various projects I had set aside over the decades that were either partially or nearly fully researched and “ready to go”—except I had nowhere for them to “go to.”  Now that I have my own web site there is a place. 

And it is my hope and prayer that these and my other works will live on in the electronic realm for many years to come.  After all the purpose of any serious Biblical study should be to deepen one’s own understanding of the sacred text—and, where possible, to assist others in their efforts to do so as well.

                                                Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

The Ancestry of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17):  1 This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah (by Tamar), Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz (by Rahab), Boaz the father of Obed (by Ruth), Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

David was the father of Solomon (by the wife of Uriah), Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 After the deportation to Babylon, Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, 15 Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to Christ, fourteen generations.                --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:1     The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.  Except for a small minority, most people have only the mildest curiosity about their ancestors.  The ancient Jews were an exception.  Part of this was the desire to assure that they were Jews:  they took great pride in being descendants of Abraham and genealogy was the most obvious method of proving the linkage of the present generation to the distant past.

 

            1:2     Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers.  In this extended genealogy some names will be familiar to regular Bible readers because they played important roles in the scriptural record.  Others will ring a slight bell of recognition.  Others none at all:  to find more we will have to look it up in a concordance and then we’ll discover that its merely mentioned in passing.  Indeed, some names--in the period of exile--we don’t even have listed in the scriptures at all.  The names must come from family genealogies preserved either in the individual households or at one or more centrally agreed locations such as the temple in Jerusalem.         

            In such a listing, Abraham was a logical beginning point because the Messiah was regarded as the founder of the Jewish nation and the Messiah was supposed to be his descendant.

 

            1:3-5     Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse.  Even the careful Bible reader is unlikely to remember the names in this genealogy beyond Judah until he reaches Boaz.  Indeed we may remember his name primarily because of who he was married to.  This was the famous Ruth, whose willingness to return to Israel with her mother-in-law after her husband’s death is narrated in the book named after her.  Although a non-Jew, she was the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s most famous king.

           

            1:6     and Jesse begot David the king.  David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of UriahHere we have two easily recognized names:  First comes David, who was regarded as manifesting the ideal of kingship--not a perfect man but one whose heart was in the right place and who learned from his mistakes. He wrote roughly half the Psalms.

            Next comes Solomon--who was regarded as the embodiment of temporal wisdom in his age, yet whose wisdom did not seem able to keep him from a multitude of foreign alliances involving marriage to their regal daughters--and the accompanying toleration of their idolatry even in Jerusalem itself.

 

            1:7     Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa.  The United States had its division between North and South in 1861-1865 but four years of battle resolved the issue and within a few decades the country was back together stronger than it had ever been.  Under Rehoboam here in verse 7 Israel divided between North and South, but this breach was never healed.  From then on it would be the mini-kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Hence the period from then on is called the period of the divided monarchy.

 

            1:8-9     Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot UzziahUzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah.  One characteristic of both nations was that of drift into idolatry--not necessarily in place of Yahweh (Jehovah) but, instead, in addition to.  They did not so much “abandon” their God as create a pantheon and add other deities to it.  And the importance of Yahweh sometimes slid rather far down their priority list.

            Hezekiah is noteworthy in this genealogy for his role in temporarily reviving the popularity of Yahweh worship at the time when even the temple itself had fallen into disuse.  This degree of neglect would argue that the Yahweh cult was no longer of major importance at all.

            Sidebar on verse 8:  In the more detailed Old Testament record we find that this was not the complete lineage:  Uzziah was not the direct descendent of Joram.  First came Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:24; 2 Chronicles 22:1), then Joaz (2 Chronicles 22:11) and finally Amaziah who was the father of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:1).  Although it seems strange to our ears, the more distant descendants were also sometimes described as “sons” by the Hebrews--as in the warning to Hezekiah that his “sons” would be castrated and taken away to Babylon although that did not occur until long afterwards (2 Kings 20:17-18; Isaiah 39:6-7).

                       

            1:10-11     10 Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. 11 Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.  The kings who came next attempted to preserve their thrones and what they could of independence, but it was an empire building age and they ruled over only a small piece of territory.  At this point not only was a foreign empire triumphant but the bulk of the population was carried away, according to our text, into foreign captivity in distant Babylon.

            Babylon was a powerful empire and it often had quite qualified and effective rulers.  But here we have a “downside” to empire that can easily distract mighty nations:  the desire to militarily expand one’s borders and force others into it.  That was why the conquest was launched and the local Jews removed in captivity.  Babylonian “glory” could only be purchased at the price of someone else’s liberty.

 

            1:12-15     And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel13 Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor14 Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud15 Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob.  The names mentioned in verse 12 can be found in the scriptural record; all those in verses 13-15 are of unknown origin.  Detailed genealogies are known to have been kept by families and these names would have been derived from one of those.  From the standpoint of the individuals, you might call this a “mixed blessing:  from one standpoint it’s wonderful to be the ancestor of someone famous; on the other hand, isn’t it kind of sad that that’s the only reason people remember your name?

 

            1:16      And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.  Here we reach the immediate parents of Jesus.  As near as we can tell, they were “merely” pious Jews, with nothing in their immediate family or behavior that would have made them peculiarly noteworthy as the likely parents of the Messiah.  Yet such people have been the foundation of all lasting religious movements. 

            “Christ” means “anointed,” the terminology adopted from the act of formally appointing someone to the position of authority and leadership.  What more appropriate description and title could the ultimate authority figure of the Messiah have since He had “all authority . . . in heaven and on earth?” (Matthew 28:18)  

 

            1:17      So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.  It is only when we reach this verse that we discover that there is a “numerical” ordering scheme to the genealogy we’ve been through:  fourteen generations from Abraham to the great king David, fourteen from him until the captivity in Babylon, and fourteen from then until the birth of Christ.  The chance of there being literally fourteen and not one less and not one more in each of these lengthy periods of time is minimal:  in one period, yes; in two, unlikely; in all three, utterly improbable.  Hence there is likely intended omissions and that these three sets of fourteen are chosen as representative of a longer list.  (For direct evidence see verse 8.)  In other words an accurate list but not a complete one, with various connective names omitted.

            This raises the question of why fourteens are selected as the three broad sets within which to construct the chronology.  Ease of memorization represents one obvious possibility.  Furthermore, a three-fold division was quite reasonable regardless of the specific number of individuals:  the kingship of David and the Babylonian captivity stand out in even the most casual reading of the Old Testament as pivotal events in the nation’s history.

 

 

The Birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25):  18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way.  While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  19 Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately.

20 When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled:  23 Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”  24 When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him.  He took his wife, 25 but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:18      Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Although the word “virgin” will be applied to Mary down in verse 23, our text from here on makes repeated allusion to facts that imply that reality.  Here we find that she was found to be pregnant “before they came together” as husband and wife, i.e., i.e., it was a premarital pregnancy.  So (unless one believes she had been unfaithful) she was still a virgin.

            Although specific cases might well vary, the typical custom in that age was for the betrothal to last a year and for the bride to be to remain in her parents’ home until the marriage itself.  What we are given no hint of is how her parents reacted to all this or, if they had already died, whatever kin she was residing with. 

 

            1:19      Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  Virgin birth would not have been the natural interpretation at the time, of course:  misconduct on her part would have been regarded as certain.  This automatically placed Joseph in a difficult situation.  On the one hand he wanted no part of marrying a woman who appeared to be pregnant by another man.  On the other hand he was honorable and did not desire to humiliate her by putting her away on the public accusation of adultery.  (A betrothed woman was considered guilty of adultery because she was formally committed to marriage to a different person.) 

            Nor would he wish his own name besmirched either since there could easily be those who would suspect he was the one responsible.  A “secret” divorce in which the act is as hidden from view as possible--and the cause given to justify it as vague and unspecific as feasible--were the logical next steps.

 

            1:20     But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  Not wanting to rush into a hasty and perhaps ill-prepared decision, the verse begins by telling us that “he thought about these things”--with the implication that he was doing a lot of thinking about how to handle the unexpected circumstances.  The dilemma was resolved in a dream:  (1)  He is, indeed, to marry Mary; (2) he is told that it would be honorable to marry her because the child conceived within her is “of the Holy Spirit.” 

            In other words, no mortal has gotten her pregnant.  She is still, so far as sexual relations goes, a virgin.  Again, though the term is not used, it is clearly in the mind of the writer.  In twenty-first century terms we would probably think in terms of miraculous genetic manipulation having made it all possible.

 

            1:21     And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  The name of the child is designated as “Jesus,” a word literally meaning “Savior” and it was selected, our text tells us, because of His future role in saving “His people from their sins.”  Although Jesus is pictured in Acts and the epistles as savior of all who come to Him, this naming stresses that His primary and initial role was as redeemer of those who were already “His people”--ethnic Jews.  After all, He was born a Jew; it would be nothing less than odd if the redemptive role did not begin there.

            And it is a redemptive role rather than a political one that is His mission.  He was not there to stir up a revolution against the Roman occupier, but to morally uplift and save those who would be standing in that need even if their dreams of national independence had come true.  God could, literally, have used anyone to be a political ruler; but only someone who had pre-existed with Jehovah from eternity (John 1:1-5) could have produced the salvation from sin that they stood in need of. 

 

            1:22     So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying.  The author now tells us that not only did these things happen but that there was a reason for them to happen:  the event had been spoken of ahead of time, in what we call the Old Testament.  Notice here the conception of what a true prophet was:  a true prophet did not guess at what the future would hold, he was not a mere teacher of what the immediate times “called for;” rather the message had already been “spoken by the Lord.”  It was relayed through the prophet; the prophet was the “middleman.” 

            The text does not deal with the deep philosophical problems that plague theorists:  how did God do this while retaining the prophet’s individuality and independence?  The text is simply emphasizing the important thing in the process, the result, which was fully accurate and reliable prediction.  Understanding of the means whereby it was obtained was unnecessary.  Intriguing but not essential.

 

            1:23     “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”  In this case the message was that the virgin would bear a child and people would call the child “Immanuel,” a term meaning “God with us.”  Matthew does not touch the supernatural connotations of that name beyond the act of giving it.  In contrast, the concept of Jesus’ supernaturalness is heavily stressed in the initial verses of the gospel of John.  We will repeatedly find such restraint a characteristic of Matthew, while its explicit assertion and development is characteristic of the latter.

 

            1:24     Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife.  That Joseph did as the angel commanded in the dream shows just how convinced he was that the dream had been a genuine revelation.  Those unfriendly to the family would think:  (1)  Joseph is the father and doesn’t want to admit it; or (2) Joseph is so unconcerned with moral matters that he willingly takes a wife who someone, somewhere, at some time got pregnant--and he seems to find nothing wrong with it!  Joseph was risking ridicule and much societal censure, but he was that convinced the dream had been the means of Divine revelation . . . to provide him knowledge of what had really happened.  (Or confirmation of what Mary had already told him, if one assumes they had discussed the matter.  After all it would be the totally logical and seemingly inevitable question:  “Whose baby is this?”)

 

            1:25     and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.  And he called His name Jesus.  There is such a thing as a “false pregnancy,” in which there are certain of the physical signs of bearing a child.  Mary, the immediate predecessor of Elizabeth First of England, is perhaps the most famous example of having such.  This verse rules out the possibility that what had happened so far was of this nature.

            Also the possibility that the child was physically and literally that of Joseph:  Throughout the period till the birth of Jesus, he abstained from “knowing” her, the traditional Old Testament term for having a sexual relationship.  Wherever the Child came from, it certainly wasn’t Joseph!  The language also clearly implies that after “she had brought forth” the child, that sexual relations did occur.

            Sidebar:  The term “firstborn” is omitted from nearly all modern translations because it is not found in those ancient manuscripts that are regarded as the most accurate.  Its presence would argue even more powerfully than what the text clearly implies even without it--that the other “brothers” of Jesus we read of are direct biological kin of both parents rather than a more distant relationship such as cousins or children from an earlier marriage of the earthly father.  It was assumed that the sexual relationship would exist inside a marriage and was not only a legitimate demand of the flesh but also a Divinely enjoined obligation (1 Corinthians 7:1-9; cf. Proverbs 5:18-20).  If this was to be a departure from this pattern, then God was imposing perpetual abstinence on both parents--of which we do not have the slightest hint.       

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

The “Wise Men” From the East Seek Out the Newborn Child (Matthew 2:1-12):  1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. 

After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.  “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet: 

6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and look carefully for the child.  When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well.”  After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was.  10 When they saw the star they shouted joyfully.  11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him.  They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:1     Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.  We have no idea where these wise men (Magi) came from, though Persia is a common and reasonable guess.  We only know that they are described as coming “from the East” and the implication is that it was from a great distance.  In light of the time consuming and expensive nature of their lengthy trip, this was not some spur of the moment action, but one that they had given great thought to before carrying it out.

            Sidebar:  The year of Jesus’ birth was first calculated by Dionysius (470-544 A.D.)  How he came to this conclusion we do not know.  On some now unknown basis he came to the conclusion that the contemporary Roman consul Probius Junior (525 A.D.) came to his office 525 years after the birth of the Lord.  The dating did not become widespread until the famous Venerable Bede of England (who lived 673-735) popularized it in his church history writings. 

 

            2:2     saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  The reference to their seeing “His star” has been used to argue that these were ancient astrologers and well they may have been.  But that does not rule out the high probability that they were also Jewish and acquainted with interpretations of Old Testament passages about the coming of a Messiah that utilized the star imagery to describe Him:  I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17).  It would have been quite easy for them to link their Biblical knowledge with the astrological thoughts of their local culture.

            Sidebar:  In the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.) the leader took the name of Bar Kokhba (“Son of a star”), encouraging the linkage of himself to the Messianic figure of prophecy.

 

            2:3     When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Having even an infant around who had claim to the throne was a danger to him personally.  And Herod’s character was utterly ruthless:  It is well known that he was not one to let any one or any thing stand in the way of assuring that he obtained and kept power.  When you realize this, his ruthless acts to kill the infant are immediately seen to be fully in keeping with his known character.  Especially this late in his regime when unscrupulousness combined with growing physical ailments that painfully foreshadowed his coming death.

            Sidebar:  Herod ruled for over three decades, being born about 75 B.C. and dying 4 B.C.  In about 6 B.C. he had two of his sons executed because of the suspicion that they were supporting Herod’s enemies in Nabataea.  In his last year of life he had another son--the oldest, Antipater--killed as well.  In light of his well documented ruthlessness toward potential competition in his own family, it comes as no surprise that he would strike out against Jesus as well.

 

            2:4     And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  When it came to interpreting the scriptures, he naturally went to those who claimed to be the experts--the religious leaders.  This may imply that his own knowledge of the Old Testament was minimal.  Furthermore this was a situation in which he wanted no risk of having misinterpreted any relevant texts that he remembered or that had been pointed out to him.  By summoning “all” of them he minimized the danger that the truth was being hidden--by accident or on purpose.

 

            2:5     So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet.  They answer the king’s question not with just the mention of a specific place but the evidence that validates their claim--in the next verse, from Micah 5:2.  In today’s world we call this “prooftexting.”  There is good proof texting and bad, however.  It’s bad, for example, when the passage doesn’t really have any reasonable application to the topic under consideration.  This they were not guilty of since the verse they cite mentions both (1) a place of birth and (2) the fact that the child would become king—that was His divinely ordained purpose.

 

            2:6     ‘But you, Bethlehemin the land of Judah / Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; / For out of you shall come a Ruler / Who will shepherd My people Israel.’   The political and social insignificance of the town was not going to change the fact that the coming “ruler” would be born there.  We still have that kind of bias in thinking today:  We find it a lot easier to believe that a person will be elected president who is from New York City than from some small town in rural Arkansas or Georgia.  And in most cases that is how things will work out.  But not in all--as Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter proved.

            Sidebar:  The New Testament writers are quite capable of relying on the Hebrew of a text, invoking the wording of the Septuagint Greek translation, or providing their own--or even a combination of these in a single quotation . . . as in the current text.  In this particular case, the differences have been attributed by some to the fact that this was the contemporary religious leaders’ own preferred translation (since they are doing the presentation) and that it might well be based on a contemporary Targum (translation / paraphrase) of Micah

 

            2:7     Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.  What Herod does now he does out of sight and without witnesses.  He calls the foreigners “secretly” to determine when the child was born.  This secrecy is important:  unscrupulous as he was, the murder of innocent children is something even the most base would prefer to keep out of the public eye.  They may suspect you are responsible, but you don’t want them to know it for sure.  Modern governments call it “deniability.”  Knowing “what time the star appeared” gave a time frame for the child’s current age--assuring that they would not miss the intended target.

 

            2:8     And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”  Pilate has learned from when the star appeared the maximum age of the child (verse 16):  One finds it hard to rationalize it appearing any later than the birth itself.  A bit earlier, perhaps, but not later.  Now he wants them to do his surveillance work for him:  seek out the child and bring back the word of where he dwells so that he, too, can come and honor him.  For “worship” in this regal context surely carries that idea:  of an established monarch showing honor and respect to a future one. 

            At least that’s what he wants them to think.  The real reason is so that he can avoid any danger of missing his real target.  He wants to be sure that the child is there now; his murderers have to go only the six miles to the city but he needs to be sure that their victim is currently actually there.     

 

            2:9     When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.  We read in verse 2 that the Magi had seen the star in the East and had followed it.  Here we read that they were again following the star.  Since an astronomical correlation of stars or planets would not have disappeared and reappeared, this is one of the compelling arguments in behalf of the scenario that though the “star” may have involved an astronomical event in part, that it also must have involved much more--that there was an important element of direct supernaturalness. 

The fact that our verse pictures the star as “standing” over the place where the Christ child was--and a physical star could hardly do that--argues in the same direction.  Something far more significant than “mere nature” was at work here!  The Benson Commentary rightly observes from this phenomena, “Hence it appears, that this star was not in the higher heavens, but in the lower regions of the air; for no star in the heavens could have exactly pointed out a particular house.”  Yet, oddly enough, he promptly goes on to argue that it was probably a meteor--which could hardly have duplicated the phenomena either!

 

            2:10     When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  From the previous verse we inferred that the star had temporarily disappeared at some point in the journey into Palestine and now reappeared.  This verse certainly points in that direction as well:  why “rejoice” over its appearance, if it had been there all the time?  For that matter, why bother asking the king for the location of the child if the star had always been observable through the entire journey?  Additional pleasure was surely taken in the recognition that now they were on the last stretch of their long journey westward.  The “promised one” (rather than the “promised land”) was now only hours away.

 

            2:11     And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  At the time the Magi see Jesus He is described as being in a “house”--not merely an inn or a manger.  In other words, time has passed since the birth.  Since the star had appeared two years earlier announcing it (verse 16), the passage of a year or more would be quite reasonable. 

            In recreations of the event, three wise men are invariably utilized.  The only evidence in favor of that number derives from the fact that there were three presents.  (Ancient traditions were just as happy to give the number as twelve.)  In other words the number of Magi is little beyond pure guess work.  The three items could each represent one individual’s purchase or three purchased from the pooled resources of a larger number of travelers. 

            From the standpoint of the givers, these represented the depth of their respect and honor.  From the standpoint of the recipients, it represented a major “nest egg” to assure their survival when the family soon flees into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.

 

            2:12     Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.  Just as Joseph had been instructed to take Mary as wife in a dream (1:20), so are these men are provided an important dream—one of warning.  Remember that they are the only people outside whatever trusted agents the king is going to use to carry out his vengeance that know he is using them to search out the Christ child.  With them dead, there would be no embarrassing outside witnesses to compromise any claim to bewilderment at the calamity about to hit the town. 

 

Jesus’ Family Flees for Safety into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15):  13 After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.”  14 Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt.  15 He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

            2:13     Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”  Here again a dream enters the picture to move Joseph’s life in an unexpected direction.  He recognized much of Jesus’ nature and importance both by implication and direct statement.  After all, he was under direct angelic command to accept Mary as wife and knew that the child was a supernatural conception.  He also surely knew what Mary had been told as well for it is unthinkable that the two did not share what the other had learned. 

            So before the wise men arrived he certainly recognized that Jesus was very special; indeed unique.  That had to be both awesome and a tad alarming since he was the one in charge of the child’s raising.  

            Mary had been told of Jesus’ salvational role (1:21).  Through the Magi they learn what they may already have suspected--that this Child was to grow up to be ruler over the nation as well.  After all, what they already knew fit together quite well with this.  That the current ruler knew of this was, however, immediately alarming.

            Anyone living in that part of the world knew that Herod was very dangerous.  Whatever Jesus might ultimately turn out to be, anything that might draw the despot’s attention to such an obscure family as this, had to have a tremendous potential for danger.  Pointing out that Herod wanted to “destroy” the child merely made explicit the threat Joseph could have guessed at on his own when hearing the ruler was on the lookout.

 

            2:14     When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt.  Note the connection in the verse:  He arose/he took.  This could well mean the same night as the dream.  Since preparations often take time, however, it could also mean that he gathered everything together the next day and left secretly during that night.  Either way, he just “vanished” from the face of the earth.  No one knowing where he had gone or why.  Leaving no path for Herod’s hunters to pursue.

            Where he went in Egypt we are not told, but Alexandria is the most likely place due to its size and large Jewish community.  As Paul in after years was able to connect himself with fellow-craftsmen, and thus maintain himself (Acts 18:3), so might Joseph reasonably expect to be able to do in Egypt, and the more so since the connection there between those who worked at the same trade seems to have been even closer than elsewhere, for in the great synagogue at Alexandria they sat together [according to the Talmud] ‘so that if a stranger came he could join himself to his fellow-craftsmen and, through their means, obtain his livelihood’ (Pulpit Commentary). 

 

            2:15     and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”  Whatever number of months or years it took for Herod to die--and the estimates run from a low of less than a year to a high of about six years--for that long the family remained in Egypt.  Melding into the resident Jewish population would have been easy and provided a safe and secure environment for them.  The message to return home is presented by Matthew as the fulfillment of God’s calling ancient Israel out of Egypt.  What was true then of God’s unique nation being called out of that land (Hosea 11:1 being cited) would now be true of God’s unique Son.

 

 

An Outraged Tyrant Strikes Out at the Defenseless (Matthew 2:16-18):  16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged.  He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men.  17 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

18 A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing, Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone.”    --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:16     Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.  Herod was outraged with the Magi not carrying out his orders and promptly acted to assure that their flight did not undermine his opportunity to destroy his “regal rival:”  all the male children two years of age or less were to be killed.  Extermination of anyone in that age bracket “assured”—he thought—that the right infant was destroyed.  Note that this was not only “in Bethlehem” but also “in all of its districts,” just in case the child lived outside the official boundaries of the town.  The number killed in the slaughter is unknown, but Bethlehem was a small town so to speak in terms of ten to thirty probably would not miss the mark by far.

 

            2:17     Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying.  In verses 5 and 15 statements are quoted as being by “the prophet,” without giving any specific name.  Here the name is provided--Jeremiah, the man we often call the “weeping prophet.”  The text Matthew is about to quote (Jeremiah 31:15) fits that description perfectly.

 

            2:18     “A voice was heard in Ramah, / Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, / Rachel weeping for her children, / Refusing to be comforted, / Because they are no more.”  Just as death in Jeremiah’s ancient day caused inconsolable weeping for the dead, so it also happened in Bethlehem.  Prophetic parallelism:  the same language aptly and perfectly fitting two different situations.

 

 

Jesus’ Family Returns from Exile and Make Their Home at Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23):  19 After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up and took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel.  22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.  After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee.  23 He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there.  Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.    --New English Translation (for comparison)  

 

 

            2:19     Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.  After the death of the murderous king, Joseph is told that it is time to return to his homeland.  Obviously news of something this important would have spread rapidly into Egypt--with or without angelic verification.  But not all “news” turns out to be true.  Hence it was important for Joseph to hear it from a source he knew was reliable. 

           

            2:20     saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”  The reason it was safe to return is spelled out.  We hear it said a lot that it is wrong to “wish some one dead” and there is a lot of truth in that.  On the other hand, there are people who are going to benefit society as much or more by their death than by their life.  And Herod was one such, as least so far as this particular family went.

            One wonders about Joseph’s state of mind.  Had he already begun to set down deep roots and regretted the need to tear them up and depart?  Or had he never ceased hungering for where he came from?  Either way, like ancient Abraham when he was told to go--he went.

 

            2:21     Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.  We are not given Jesus’ age.  We know that He had been under two years of age when the family left home since that was the maximum age Herod’s assassins targeted.  Now He is still “young,” limiting the time of the return to His early childhood years.

 

            2:22     But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.  And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee  Unfortunately for his initial intentions, Joseph discovered that Archelaus was ruling in Judea in place of his father.  That he did not trust his restraint or policies can be seen in the fact that Joseph was “afraid” to go there.  His existing fears were confirmed as valid and he chose to dwell in Galilee instead.

            Notice how this dream is different:  the one telling him to take Mary as wife urged him to go against what he planned on doing (divorce); the dream telling him to return home may or may not have matched his preferences at the time.  Only in this case does a dream clearly confirm and endorse his preferences—avoiding Judea.

            Sidebar on the two rulers in the land:  Strictly speaking, this prince, who, under his father’s will (made just before his death), governed Judea, Samaria, and Idumæa, was never recognized as a king by the Roman Emperor, but received the inferior title of Ethnarch.  Antipas had Galilee and Peræa, Philip the region of Trachonitis.  Popularly, however, the higher title was still used of him as we find it in 14:9 of the Tetrarch Antipas. 

            “The character of Archelaus was as cruel and treacherous as that of his father, and within a few months after his accession, he sent in his horsemen to disperse a multitude, and slew not less than 3,000 men [during the Passover].  The temper of Antipas on the other hand was as yet looked on as milder.  This, and possibly his absence from Galilee on a visit to Rome, may well have led Joseph to turn to that region as offering a prospect of greater safety. . . .  Nine years later the oppression of Archelaus became so intolerable that both Jews and Samaritans complained of him to the Emperor, and he was deposed and banished to Gaul.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            2:23     And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”  The town of Nazareth was chosen as residence so He would fit in with the prophetic message.  Not a specific text, however--Matthew is quite capable of providing such when germane and has done so four times already (1:22-23; 2:4-6; 2:14-15; 2:16-18). 

            This lack argues that something else is at play.  Hence it makes great sense to argue that popular hostile opinion made a play on words between “Nazareth” and “Nazarene”--equating the two as conceptually meaning worthless and contemptible.  We can prove both elements of this assertion. 

            Even future disciple Nathaniel would initially regard Jesus as inherently impossible of being spiritually important because of where He came from:  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  The only other use of the term Nazarene also conveys exactly that kind of disregard and contempt:  The apostle Paul is dismissed as a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).  We may not grasp why the linkage would be made this way but it seems clear that they did.  

            Scholars love to argue about what that term “Nazarene” means and whether a resident of Nazareth would even be called such.  But slurs and play on words, by their very nature, do not have to fit “proper” linguistic usage.  They only have to make sense to the users.  By the nature of the circumstances we don’t have external historical data pointing either in favor or against it beyond the very little we have presented and on such an obscure point it would be surprising if we did. 

But this we do know:  the gospel was written early enough where there would have been plenty of people alive to challenge the point if was outlandish to them.  And we have no indication that it was ever a bone of contention.  It is simply one of those odd references that would have made good sense to those close to the events but potentially confusing to those many centuries away. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

John the Baptist Prepares the Spiritual Ground for the Work of Jesus (Matthew 3:1-6):  1 In those days John the Baptist came into the wilderness of Judea proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”For he is the one about whom Isaiah the prophet had spoken:

“The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”

Now John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.  Then people from Jerusalem, as well as all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.          

                       

 

            3:1     In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea.  A “wilderness” wasn’t a totally deserted area.  Likewise today you will find tiny towns in the Rocky Mountains far beyond metro areas.  These are typically so few and limited in population that it’s hard not to think of the entire region as “wilderness” in spite of that fact.

            “We are not to suppose that John shunned the society of men, as those afterward did, who, on that account, were called hermits; but he had been brought up and had always lived in the country, and not in the city, and had had a plain country education, and not an academical or courtly one, at Jerusalem.  We must observe, that the term wilderness, among the Jews, did not signify a place wholly void of inhabitants, but a place in which they were fewer, and their habitations more dispersed, than in villages and cities.  Hence we read of six cities with their villages, in the wilderness (Joshua 15:61-62); that Nabal dwelt in the wilderness of Paran (1 Samuel 25:1-2); and Joab had his house in the wilderness (1 Kings 2:34).  John began his preaching in the desert, in which he had been brought up (Luke 1:80), as Jesus, in like manner, began His in Galilee (Acts 10:37).  There was, however, this difference between them, that Christ preached in Galilee, a country the most populous of any in that [regionn], but John in the desert, that is, in a place but thinly inhabited, and little cultivated.”  (Benson Commentary)

 

            3:2     and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  We find here and in the following verse the three foundation principles of the message of John the Baptist:

            (1)  “Repent:”  at its heart that means a change of mind in regard to moral and ethical matters that results in a change of behavior.  For some people those changes are modest because they are already on basically the right path.  For others, it’s nothing short of a revolutionary transformation.

            (2)  Then we find the reason for the message of reform:  the nearness of the “kingdom of heaven.”  The text does not tell us, explicitly, the connection between these two points but it is almost certainly this:  If you wish to be in that kingdom then you--John’s audience--will have to change your mindframe and resulting lifestyle.

            Sidebar:  Although “kingdom of heaven” is used repeatedly by Matthew, the expression is lacking in the other gospels.  Although he freely refers to the “kingdom of God” as well, this term is the exclusive one used to describe the Divine kingdom in the other three lives of Christ.

 

            3:3     For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  / ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; / Make His paths straight.’   The third foundation assumption of John’s ministry was his role as wilderness preparer for the Messiah.  There was prophetic precedent that could be cited for one teaching in this manner in the minimally populated areas:  the words of the prophet Isaiah (40:3-5).  Isaiah, however, had spoken of that person only as doing the initial preparatory work for the kingdom.  He was simply the means of laying the foundation for someone even more important--the Messiah Himself.

            Sidebar:  This forerunner role was not only the interpretation put upon John’s ministry by the gospel writers, but also the one he directly embraced--though you have to go to the gospel of John to see it (1:19-27).

 

            3:4     Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.  John’s attire was certainly not comfortable:  “camel’s hair” was rough in texture and uncomfortable to the skin.  On the other hand, it was able to handle varied climate conditions--from hot to cold--quite well.  His food was readily available in the wilderness where he functioned:  locusts and wild honey would have been in abundance.  To our tastes, an odd diet but it would have kept him alive.  And when all is said and done, that is the important thing.

 

            3:5     Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him.  John differed from other preachers:  we expect preachers to travel to where we are--except in the limited sense that we travel across town to a place of worship where they are.  Preachers, though, are expected to carry the burden of travel and to cross state, national, even international boundaries to come to us.  John did not have to seek out an audience in this manner.  His message was so well received that multitudes felt compelled to take the initiative and travel long distances to hear his message.  Talk about the power of “word of mouth!”

 

            3:6     and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.  Baptism and confessing of sins are linked here.  People have taken that in two ways:  (1) before being baptized they confessed (i.e., admitted) their sins--either their sinful lifestyle as a whole or, some say, specific problem areas in their life; alternatively (2) it can be taken to mean that the baptism itself was a confession of sin.  Unless they felt the guilt of sin, why seek to be baptized? 

            Actually there is an answer to that question:  To keep everyone else happy by going through an empty form and stripping it of its purpose.  The fact that the Pharisees and Sadducees thought it could be changed into such an empty religious rite--rather than one manifesting repentance and the desire to live better--caused John to pour out his anger on them in the very next section. 

 

 

John the Baptist Guts the Arrogance and Pride of Those Who Want to Pretend to Be Spiritual But Change Nothing of Their True Character (3:7-12):  But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!  10 Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am—I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  e will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.”  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            3:7     But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Just because a person is willing to go through the outward forms of religion does not necessarily mean that they are doing anything more than conforming to what is popular.  Some people “get religion” because others around them are “getting religion.”  Others reject religion--and you often see this in colleges--because others on campus don’t take religion seriously.  In this case it is the Pharisees and Sadducees who are willing to “go through the motions” to keep others happy--so long as no one expects them to change anything in their behavior or beliefs.

            Sidebar:  Guiding principles of the two groups--“Pharisees.  The name signifies ‘Separatists;’ the party dates from the revival of the national life, and observances of the Mosaic Law under the Maccabees.  Their ruling principle was a literal obedience to the written law and to an unwritten tradition.  Originally they were leaders of a genuine reform.  But in the hands of less spiritual successors their system had become little else than a formal observance of carefully prescribed rules.  ‘The real virtues of one age become the spurious ones of the next.’ . . .

            “The Sadducees were the aristocratic and priestly party, they acquiesced in foreign rule, and foreign civilization.  They refused to give the same weight as the Pharisees to unwritten tradition, but adhered strictly to the written law of Moses.  [However  they rejected the authority of the rest of the Old Testament.]  Their religious creed excluded belief in a future life, or in angels and spirits (Acts 23:8).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            3:8     Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.  John rebukes them with the warning that their disdain for constructive change simply won’t work.  If you claim to have gone through “repentance” then your “fruits”--your lifestyle, your way of behavior, your way of thinking--is going to be affected.  If there are no effects, then there is no repentance.  “As faith [James 2], so repentance, without works is dead.”  (Matthew Poole)

 

            3:9     and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  These Pharisees and Sadducees thought it was adequate that Abraham was their ancestor (“father”):  What more did they need?   Who could possibly need a more prestigious ancestor?  However, if push comes to shove, God doesn’t need children of Abraham:  He can easily create more in their place.  They are replaceable:  And how that must have annoyed them since they were the religious-political leaders of the land!  Leaders love to cherish the delusion that they are irreplaceable.

 

            3:10     And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  People talk of when the end of the world is going to come.  But, at least in a limited sense, the judgment of us occurs here and now—note the “even now” in our text.  In other words, the Pharisees and Sadducees are warned that they are now being held to judgment and the way they have been acting has been thoroughly rebellious:  it is going to be like an ax cutting them off at the roots and what is left being thrown into the fire. 

            People can talk about “figurative” and “literal” to their heart’s content, but that can easily divert us from the core thought of this verse:  God knows what we are doing and if our behavior constantly provokes Him, He is going to vigorously and permanently punish us.  If one believes that, then all discussion about the “nature” of that retribution is almost an irrelevancy.

 

            3:11     I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Many take “the Holy Spirit and fire” in this verse to be one and the same thing.  In the light of John’s preceding use of fire imagery as involving punishment (verse 10) that is extremely unlikely.  Hence Jesus is going to offer the multitudes the choice between Divine blessing (the gift of the Holy Spirit) or the Divine punishment (Divine “fire”).  The choice is not going to be made for them.  That choice is solely their own.  It will be human freedom of choice at work.

 

            3:12     His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  Again we find “fire” being used as punishment:  listeners to John are like grain to be harvested.  The good part--the wheat--will be saved in the barn; but what of the worthless “chaff?”  In the Old Testament they are pictured as merely being blown away (Psalms 1:4) but even there it carries the connotation of being separated from God’s people and being rejected (verse 5:  Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous”).

            Here the image is made even stronger:  They will be thrown into the fire.  

            But John makes the image even stronger than that.  He calls it “unquenchable fire,” i.e., there is nothing that will put it out.  By persistent rebellion you got yourself into this disaster and it’s reached a point that God is not going to do anything to rescue you from it.  The time for that is long past. 

 

 

In Order to Set the Right Example, Jesus Willingly Submits to Baptism Himself Even Though He Has No Need of It (3:13-17):  13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him in the Jordan River.  14 But John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?”  15 So Jesus replied to him, “Let it happen now, for it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John yielded to him.  16 After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him.  17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.”  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            3:13     Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  The exalted moral stature attributed to Jesus in the New Testament at first makes this seem strange.  Yet, on the other hand, can you imagine the endless barrage of questions Jesus would have encountered if He had not gone?  “Don’t you consider John a prophet?  Why don’t you show respect to him?”

            Sidebar:  If this occurred at Aenon near Salim--the only site actually specified as him doing such (John 3:23)--this would have been about a day’s walk from Jesus’ residence in Nazareth. 

 

            3:14     And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”  John recognized that Jesus needed no baptism that he could offer and tried to refuse it to Him.  At the minimum this implies John’s recognition of his own insignificance when compared to Jesus.  At the maximum, it implies a recognition that Jesus’ character was so sterling and impeccable that what all others needed (i.e., repentance) was not needed by Him—He was truly unique.

 

            3:15     But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he allowed Him.  Jesus defended His desire for baptism, but not on the ground that He in any way needed it.  Instead, it was on the grounds that it was the right thing to do, the “righteous” thing.  After all, John had been sent on a Divinely commissioned preaching mission to all Israel.  It would hardly be fitting for Jesus as an Israelite to avoid that baptism whether He actually needed it or not.

 

            3:16     When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  Like a dove” coming down could mean in a dove like appearance.  Others take it to mean that the motions of the descent were like a dove’s and leaves the physical appearance undescribed.  (There are times when things happen or you see things that are quite real, but there are in fact no words that do justice to the phenomena.)  Either way, this is one of the texts where we find all three persons in the Godhead mentioned together:  Jesus and the Spirit here and in the following verse God speaking from heaven.

            Sidebar:  How many saw this phenomena?  We know that Jesus did (“He saw” in our text) and that John the Baptist did (John 1:32-34), but did any in the crowd that was present see it as well?  It has been argued from “the heavens were opened to Him” that this was a vision and not a tangible and visible to all phenomena.  If so this was like what happened when Stephen was being martyred (“I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” Acts 7:56).  Similarly Ezekiel beheld heavenly sights (“the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God,” Ezekiel 1:1).    

 

            3:17     And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  This audible voice not only pinpoints Jesus as being in a special and unique sense the “beloved Son”--in a sense shared by no one else present; the recognition also serves a more immediate purpose.  It reassures John that he had done the right thing in baptizing Jesus:  God was pleased by it.  Upon occasion even a prophet needs reassurance!

            Sidebar:  This is one of only three times that a voice spoke to Jesus during His life.  The second was during the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5) and the last during the final week of His life (John 12:28).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

 

Satan Attempts to Lure Jesus Into Sin (4:1-11):  1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’   7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur.  And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.”  10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”  11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.

--New English Translation (for comparison)        

 

 

            4:1     Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Having received a special manifestation of the Spirit at His baptism (Matthew 3:16), Jesus is now directly influenced by the Spirit in behavior:  The Spirit “led” Him into the wilderness.  Since God had given Him this gift, Jesus knew He could trust it.  Yet the human aspect of Jesus surely must have been concerned because He was being led where He would be “tempted.”  Temptation is inevitable in life, yet to seek it out--well, Jesus had to have known how dangerous that could be.  However would not great honor being given (as it had just been at the baptism) quite naturally be paired with a period of great temptation?

 

            4:2     And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.  A weak person does not have all of his or her mental and physical facilities to call upon.  You are stripped down by bodily weakness to the fundamental essence--what you really are.  And our text tells us that Jesus had fasted for over a month.  So in the battle of wits that is about to occur, the Devil is working from a position of full bodily strength and Jesus is working from one without it.

            Sidebar:  We read of both Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) undergoing similarly long fasts but in neither of these cases were they exposed to direct and personal Satanic temptation immediately afterwards.

 

            4:3     Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  Each of the Devil’s temptations is going to revolve around vindicating the claim that He is “Son of God.”  Since all of God’s creation are such in a broad sense and since, as a Jew, Jesus was entitled to the description in an even stronger manner, why was there the need to prove it? 

            Hence the demand only makes sense if “Son of God” carries with it a special meaning, a special significance it does not have in regard to any one else.  But if we rule out these “weaker” meanings of the term, then we are compelled in the direction of accepting it as conveying that Jesus was more than a mere mortal--“Son of God” in a sense that other mortals do not share in.

            The first temptation to prove that He is such is to turn stones into bread.  This would not only manifest supernatural power, it would be in Jesus’ personal self interest.   If we go a day or two we are hungry; if we have fasted for over a month we are going to be starving.       

 

            4:4     But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’   Jesus’ response is that Satan is considering only part of what scripture demands and not considering its totality.  Scripture demands that we live not just by food, but also through obedience to God’s will and the Lord quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 to prove it.  Hence this fasting He was undergoing must have been part of God’s will for Him.  As such it was not His right or privilege to refuse to do it.  Or circumvent completing it.

 

            4:5     Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple.  The temple in Jerusalem was where people came to worship and offer their various animal and grain sacrifices.  At any given time there would be hundreds if not thousands present.  Anything Jesus did there would be immediately known locally and, if dramatic enough, the word would spread quickly far and wide.  Hence the Devil takes Him to the top edge of the temple where, if Jesus acts, all will see what He has done.

            Sidebar:  Among the gospel writings, only Matthew describes Jerusalem as “the holy city”--both here and once again in 27:53.

            Sidebar on what part of the Temple is under consideration:  “Literally, ‘a little wing,’ an architectural term for a wing-like projection.  The particular pinnacle was probably on the roof of one of the Temple Porches overlooking the deep valley of the Kedron or of Hinnom.  Josephus speaking of the ‘Royal Porch’ says ‘if anyone looked down from the top of the battlements he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth.” Antiquities xv. 11. 5’ [--some 450 feet to the bottom].”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  

 

            4:6     and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:  ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’   This time the temptation is to vindicate that He has angels on the outlook for His well being.  If there are, then they will protect Him from bodily harm--they will protect Him from physical injury--even if He jumps from the edge of the Temple.  And he quotes Psalms 91:11-12 to justify the challenge.  In the original setting, the passage refers to God’s willingness to protect a (i.e., any) son of God; but it must apply to you, Jesus, a thousandfold more dramatically if you truly are the Son of God!

            Unstated, but required by the situation in which this occurs, is another factor as well--an effort to twist Jesus ministry away from teaching and moral reform:  Many will see Him with the angels and be awed.  Jesus won’t have to work to gain disciples.  They will come flocking to Him by His wonders alone.  A short cut to fame and popular acceptance.  But also a grotesque abandonment of the means that was supposed to be His main tool in winning human souls for the Divine cause.

 

            4:7     Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’   Again, Jesus’ response is that the Devil is only taking part of the scriptures under consideration.  He is citing just the words that seem to back up his claim and refusing to consider any that point in another direction.  And one that he is conspicuously refusing to notice is the commandment against testing God (Deuteronomy 6:16).  The fact that God would protect did not give one the right to needlessly put oneself in danger where God would have to.  In a first century disciple context, we might think of those who might have taken Mark 16:18 and used it as an excuse to play with poisonous snakes.

 

            4:8     Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  Whatever literalness or figurativeness was present in the earlier temptations, there seems no escaping the need for the latter to be at least partially involved in the present case:  there was simply no mountain from which one could have seen “all” the kingdoms of this world.  True, He could have been taken to a high one and shown them in a vision and that could well be in mind--but even that involves a combination of literalness and figurativeness.  Or does the term “figurative” truly fit a vision?  is it not an alternative literalness?  At least an alternative reality? 

            If “all” the kingdoms be taken in the narrower sense of all connected with the traditional Jewish heartland, then the political entities currently encompassing Galilee, Samaria, Judea and the regions immediately to the east of the Jordan would be in mind.  Finding a mountain adequate to view even that more limited region would be difficult to imagine, however.  

 

            4:9     And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”  The devil claims that he will give all these nations to Jesus if He merely worships him.  People sometimes get bogged down here with the question:  Did the Devil really have power over the nations?  Did he actually have the authority to pass on?  Jesus doesn’t deal with that question because it was an irrelevancy.  The central problem was far different.

 

            4:10     Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’   Whether Satan had authority over nations--whether he had authority over some or all nations--didn’t matter when all was said and done.  What he wanted Jesus to do was wrong in and of itself.  (Jesus invokes Deuteronomy 6:13-14 to make this point.)  Even if the claimed power over nations were truly present, the means for Jesus to gain it remained flat wrong.  There are some things worth having that are simply not worth the price of moral and spiritual compromise we’d have to pay.

 

            4:11     Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.  The time of temptation is now over.  Only at this point do we find Jesus receiving supernatural (angelic) help as He recuperates from the pressure and stress He has been under in the time of extended opposition and challenge.  We read the text as if each of the temptations happened only once, but toward the end of the forty days we can easily imagine that Satan may have tried the attacks several times--just like an earthly interrogator will do so in hope that the resistance will be cracked.  But once or several times, He had successfully resisted all of the Satanic effort..

            The angels’ help surely included food for that would both be the necessary inference from how long he had gone without any and because of the direct statement in Luke 4:2 that when the temptations “had ended, He was hungry.”  A hearty “well done” surely came along with the nourishment.  Not to mention the psychological encouragement that though He had not asked for anything, they knew what was needed and acted instinctively to meet it.     

 

 

Jesus Begins His Public Ministry in His Native Galilee (4:12-17):   12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee.  13 While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled:

15Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            4:12     Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee.  Although there are certainly various passages in which Jesus is described as having supernatural insight into people’s backgrounds, we have no reason to believe that talent was used except when it served to advance His ministry.  Most of His life was as mentioned here:  He “heard” that something had happened, just as others were hearing.

            Sidebar on how the chronology here integrates with the gospel of John:  “It is to be observed, that this was not the first, but the second time of Jesus’ going into Galilee.  Nor did he take this journey immediately upon his temptation; but at some distance of time:  viz., after the events had taken place which are recorded in the latter part of the first, and in the second and third chapters of John’s gospel.  His first journey from Judea into Galilee is mentioned (John 1:43; 2:1).  Then he went into Judea again, and celebrated the Passover at Jerusalem (2:13).  He baptized in Judea, while John was baptizing at Enon (3:22-23).  All this time John was at liberty.  But the Pharisees being offended (4:1-3), and John [having been] put in prison, He then took this journey into Galilee.”  (Benson Commentary)

 

            4:13     And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali.  We find here an important shift in Jesus’ ministry.  No longer is he the man from Nazareth.  Now His hometown will be Capernaum, a community by the Sea of Galilee, a community that would give Him ready access into the heavily populated regions around the lake.

            No reason is given here for the move, but in Luke’s account this comes immediately after His violent rejection by the townspeople of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-31), making one suspect that it is a case of cause and effect:  If his own townsmen would not permit Him to teach and heal as He saw best, there was every reason to seek out a more receptive setting.

            Additional reasons can easily be found:  “(1)  Its position on the shore of the lake, as a town with a garrison and a custom-house, made it the natural centre of the fishing-trade of the Lake of Galilee.  As such, it fell in with the habits of the four first-called disciples, who, though two of them were of Bethsaida, were already partly domiciled there.  (2.) It was within an easy day’s journey of Nazareth, and so admitted either of another visit thither, as if to see whether those who dwelt there were more capable of faith than they had shown themselves at first (Matthew 13:54), or, as in Matthew 12:46-50, of visits from His mother and His brethren, when they were anxious to restrain Him from teaching that seemed to them perilous.  (3.)  Even the presence of the ‘publicans and sinners’—the latter term including Gentiles, the class of those who had flocked to the preaching of John, and were to be found in the half-Romanised city, and were not to be found in the more secluded villages—may have been one of the elements which led to the decisive choice.  (4.) Lastly, John’s narrative supplies another link.  The healing of the son of one of the Tetrarch’s officers at Capernaum (John 4:46-54) had secured there a certain degree of protection and of influence.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers) 

 

            4:14     that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying.  If one needed prophetic rather than merely prudential justification for this change of locale, Matthew points out that Isaiah (9:1-2) had spoken of one who would work and labor in that region.

 

            4:15     “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, / By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, / Galilee of the Gentiles:  It was an area, our text tells us, characterized by “Gentiles.”  Apparently they were either in the majority or such a large minority that they played a pivotal role in shaping the attitudes and behavior of Jew and Gentile alike in the region.  It did, however, provide an automatic excuse for Judaeans to be snobbish toward these “northern brethren” of theirs:  “you’re not that much better than those people” (i.e., Gentiles).

 

            4:16     The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, / And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death / Light has dawned.”  Yet however much the local followers of God influenced their environment in a positive direction, the remainder of the Isaiah text (quoted here) speaks of how the prevailing climate was one of spiritual “darkness” and “death.”  Through the introduction of this new factor--Jesus--the much needed “light” would finally have dawned.  Although Jesus is sometimes pictured as dealing with Gentiles in the Gospels, that was not where the center of emphasis of His temporal ministry lay.  But the Isaiah text clearly stressed that, even so, God already had a vital interest in such outsiders--laying the conceptual groundwork for the ultimate expansion of the gospel among them.

 

            4:17     From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Although Jesus had been known as a teacher previously in Galilee (Luke 4:16-31), it is only from this point that Jesus returns from Judea to do so on a persistent basis:  He “began to preach” says our text. 

            And the message He chose to preach was repentance because of the nearness of God’s kingdom.   Why would He choose that message?  The dominant reason, of course, was that He came to earth to save the souls of anyone willing to reform and seek forgiveness from God.  How were they to know what to do unless someone taught them and encouraged them?

            But even beyond that, John had been imprisoned (4:12) so the loudest and clearest presenter of the doctrine in Galilee was no longer available to do so.  There needed to be someone there proclaiming it and Jesus stood up and filled the void.  Just as we should--in our much lesser ways--when a need arises that we are capable of filling.  We should not be “glory seekers” but still be always ready to do what is needed.

 

 

Calling of Four Future Apostles to Initial Discipleship As Part of His Traveling Company (4:18-22):  18 As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen).  19 He said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.”  20 They left their nets immediately and followed him.

21 Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets.  Then he called them.  22 They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            4:18     And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Jesus observed Peter and Andrew while they were working--fishing.  He knew that they had a talent for this, but that they were also capable of something far more important:  He knew their talents and potential and intended to incorporate them into His movement on an on-going basis.

            On their part, at the time when Jesus was baptized they had embraced Him as the Messiah (John 1:35-42).  They now had had time to think through just how deeply they were willing to commit their lives to His cause and that surely goes far to explain how they were so willing to “immediately” follow Him (verse 20).

            Sidebar:  The Sea of Galilee in the first century--“Its form is an irregular oval, with the large end to the north.  It is about 14 miles in length, and from 6 miles to 9 miles in width.  It is about 600 feet lower than the Mediterranean, and this great depression accounts for some of its special phenomena.  There is no part of Palestine, it is said, which can be compared in beauty with the environs of this lake.  Many populous cities once stood on its shores, such as Tiberias, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Chorazin, Hippo, etc.

            “The shores are described by Josephus as a perfect paradise, producing every luxury under heaven at all seasons of the year, and its remarkable beauty is still noticed by the traveler:  ‘Seen from any point of the surrounding heights, it is a fine sheet of water a burnished mirror set in a framework of surrounding hills and rugged mountains, which rise and roll backward and upward to where hoary Hermon hangs the picture on the blue vault of heaven.’  The lake is fed mainly by the Jordan; but besides this there are several great fountains and streams emptying into it during the rainy seasons, which pour an immense amount of water into it, raising its level several feet above the ordinary mark. . . . 

            “Lieutenant Lynch reports [in the 19th century] its greatest ascertained depth at 165 feet.  The waters of the lake are sweet and pleasant to the taste, and clear.  The lake still abounds with fish, and gives employment, as it did in the time of our Savior, to those who live on its shores.  It is, however, stormy, probably due to the high hills by which it is surrounded.”  (Barnes’ Notes)  

 

            4:19     Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Jesus throws at them a challenge based upon their occupation:  You are fishers--you catch fish; follow me and you will catch a netful of people!  For this challenge to have made any sense:  (1)  They must have known about Jesus; (2) they must have acknowledged His right to be regarded as an authoritative teacher; (3) they must have had a basic respect for His native wit and intelligence sufficiently deep that they could trust His leadership.  The “back story” that we learn about from the gospel of John is left out here as well as intermediary additional interaction with them.  Hence one of the profound advantages of having four rather than just one gospel version--a much fuller account of all that happened, each one supplementing the others.

 

            4:20     They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  Clearly they were fully convinced that Jesus would be a reliable leader.  There was no prolonged give and take of argument.  There was no hesitancy.  We simply read that “immediately” they acted.  That itself is a powerful demonstration of their faith and trust in Him.  Leaving your “career” behind—even briefly—is one of the biggest decisions a person can make in this life, isn’t it?

 

            4:21     Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets.  He called them.  While walking further around the lake, Jesus encounters two more fishermen--James and John, another pair of brothers.  They were involved in “maintenance work:  not fishing but repairing/mending their nets so that none of the fish they caught would escape.  The text simply says Jesus “called them”--presumably the same call to be fishers of men that He had earlier made to James and John. 

            At this point there is no reason to believe that any of these men were being selected as apostles.  The call to apostleship came later.  The call to be active disciples--that is what we are looking at here.  The building block through which their dedication and abilities would be initially tested.

 

            4:22     and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.  The response of these two brothers was just as prompt as the other two:  “Immediately” they acted.  That quickness of decision implies that they also were fully confident that the father they left behind was quite capable of maintaining the family fishing business while they were away.  It exhibits both faith in their Lord, but also in their father.  The New Testament never speaks kindly of avoiding family obligations and there is no reason to believe that this was happening here when they left.  If it had been, would the Lord even have chosen them?

            Sidebar:  In this case we happen to know that the family was prosperous enough to have “hired servants” (Mark 1:20) who could provide assistance if needed.

 

 

Jesus Proves the Validity of His Teaching by Widespread Healings (4:23-25):  23 Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people.  24 So a report about him spread throughout Syria.  People brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them.  25 And large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            4:23     And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.  Jesus’ tour of Galilee emphasized two things:  (1) teaching/preaching because of the approaching kingdom; (2) healing whatever diseases and sicknesses He encountered.  The latter provided concrete, external evidence that they were listening to a Speaker whose words deserved to be heeded.  They strengthened the credibility of the teaching. 

            The fact that they involved “all kinds of sickness” further reinforced that element.  It also shows that His capacity was unlimited in scope; it was not limited to any one particular type of problem.  Hence He could not be faking it because cures of many things can’t be faked. 

            Sidebar:  Typical organizational structure of synagogues--“1. Divine service was held in the synagogue on the Sabbath and also on the second and fifth day of each week.

            “2. The service consisted in reading the Law and the Prophets by those who were called upon by the ‘Angel of the Church,’ and in prayers offered up by the minister for the people; the people responding ‘Amen’ as with us.

            “3. But the Synagogues were not churches alone.  Like Turkish mosques they were also Courts of Law in which the sentence was not only pronounced but executed, ‘they shall scourge you in their synagogues.’  Further, the Synagogues were Public Schools, ‘the boys that were scholars were wont to be instructed before their masters in the synagogue’ (Talmud).  Lastly, the Synagogues were the Divinity Schools or Theological Colleges among the Jews.

            “4. The affairs of the Synagogue were administered by ten men, of whom three, called ‘Rulers of the Synagogue,’ acted as judges, admitted proselytes and performed other important functions.  A fourth was termed the ‘Angel of the Church’ or bishop of the congregation; three others were deacons or almoners.  An eighth acted as ‘interpreter,’ rendering the Hebrew into the Vernacular; the ninth was the master of the Divinity School, the tenth his interpreter.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).  [He substitutes the rough modern equivalent for the actual terms of course.]

 

            4:24     Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.  Word even spread into Syria and sick from there were brought to Jesus as well.  Notice that our text refers to “different diseases and torments” and then, as a separate category, those who were “demon-possessed.”  In other words, they recognized that there was a distinction--that a person could be possessed by a demon and it have nothing to do with any type of physical ailment at all.  And vice versa.  Not that the categories couldn’t overlap, but the norm was that they didn’t.

            Sidebar on Syria:  Jesus’ fame spread far and wide, even beyond the immediate areas involved in the ministry.  The fame passes to the north and east, rather than to the south.  Galilee is connected by trade and affinity with Damascus rather than with Jerusalem.” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).

            There are passing hints of the spread of word about Him in passing textual allusions.  “Our Lord’s ministry, with the one exception of the journey to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21), was confined to what is commonly known as Palestine.  Traces of the wider fame are, however, found in the mention of hearers from Idumæa, and Tyre, and Sidon among the crowds that followed Him (Mark 3:8); in the faith of the Syro-Phœnician woman in His power to heal (Mark 7:26); perhaps in the existence of disciples at Damascus so soon after the Ascension (Acts 9:2); perhaps, also, in Peter’s appeal to the friends of Cornelius at Cæsarea, as knowing already the broad facts of our Lord’s ministry and miraculous working (Acts 10:37).” (Ellicott’s Commentary)          

 

            4:25     Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.  The multitudes flocked to Jesus from all around--even from the Decapolis.  These were ten cities created to promote Greek learning and attitudes in the region.  Many Jews lived there as well, however.  Yet because of the large number of Greeks who were present, it would not be surprising if a few Gentiles sometimes joined the interested Jewish seekers after Jesus to see what He had to say and whether He really could heal the sick as word of mouth was telling them.